Max

on December 27, 2002 by Shlomo Schwartzberg
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Menno Meyjes's controversial film about Adolf Hitler's early years is a smart, provocative drama that does the nearly impossible: It gets under the skin of a man we only know as an evil, monstrous lunatic. By the time World War II ended, that appellation was apt, but obviously, Hitler couldn't have always been that way. “Max” centers on that more “innocent” period in 1919, after World War I, when Hitler (Noah Taylor), still recovering from his part in the calamitous battle of Ypres, returns to Germany. He is a bitter, angry man who still harbors dreams of becoming an artist. Enter Max Rothman (John Cusack), a Jewish art dealer, who was also at Ypres and lost an arm in battle. Formerly an aspiring artist but now sidelined by his war injury, Max is seeking out talent he can sell in the marketplace. Hitler is one such candidate, he feels, possessor of an artistic forcefulness--a unique type of kitsch that shows potential. And Hitler is eager for artistic success.

The most fascinating aspect of “Max” is the unique relationship between Hitler and his Jewish patron. They're a study in contrasts, with the excitable Hitler determined to shake things up and Rothman, deadened to anything but the joy of art, wishing for a quite, uneventful life. But they're also linked by their war experiences and artistic inclinations. Their interactions, amidst the post-war social turmoil of Germany, are riveting and offer a window into the artistic and political debates of the time, without whitewashing the ugly aspects of Hitler's personality. And Cusack and Taylor are superb in their roles.

“Max” doesn't completely hold together--its ending is a too obvious stab at showing how Hitler's hateful oratory will culminate in the Holocaust--but it's a refreshingly new take on a familiar story. Starring John Cusack, Noah Taylor and Molly Parker. Directed and written by Menno Meyjes. Produced by Andras Hamori. A Lions Gate release. Drama. Not yet rated. Running time: 106 min. Opens 12/27.

Tags: John Cusack, Noah Taylor, Molly Parker, Menno Meyjes, Andras Hamori, Lions Gate, Drama, Adolf Hitler, World War II, frienships, war
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